Ten Years Ago Today, In London

St Pauls Cathedral - London - 7 July Bombing - Memorial Service - Petals

 

In an age when our politics feels depressingly small and our politicians often seem ineffectual and powerless in the face of events and forces beyond their control, it seems we cannot rely on our elected leaders to grapple with the weighty issues of our time, or to present a clear vision of the country and world we should be striving to build.

This is especially so on the issue of terrorism, the threat from radical Islam and the ongoing crisis of western values. Today is not a day for politics, but this essay by Frank Furedi in Spiked magazine is essential reading in terms of outlining the extent to which we are almost wilfully focused on the wrong issues.

In this context, it is refreshing to hear words of genuine wisdom, comfort and hope, especially coming from a religious figure at a time when religion is sliding toward irrelevance for many, yet held largely responsible for the wave of terrorist mayhem sweeping the world.

The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, excels in his role preaching sermons on important national occasions – most recently at the memorial service for Margaret Thatcher. Chartres was back in the national spotlight again today, at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where he preached the sermon at the memorial service to mark ten years since the July 7 bombings of 2005.

The sermon by Chartres touched eloquently on the nature of grief, the character of our country and the resilience of our great capital city. It represented a dignified argument for the continued importance of the spiritual aspect in our lives – and the importance of what we choose to worship. But most strikingly it showed an awareness of the great challenge of embracing a future of inevitable globalisation – what he calls “cosmopolitan civilisation” – while maintaining the bonds of common identity which have historically tied us together.

One passage that our elected leaders should perhaps give particular attention:

Our London is a laboratory for testing whether it will be possible for the cosmopolitan civilisation which is becoming a global reality to hold together. We are in the midst of debate about identity including what it means to be British. Some in the world are reacting to change by retreating into ever narrower definitions of their identity. And at the same time, merely invoking the universal concepts of tolerance and respect with which we probably all agree, does not generate one iota of the energy required to transform lives and build a community.

Perhaps it now takes someone like a Church of England bishop, not involved in the daily grind of politics, to step back and see the bigger picture. But there is no good reason why this should be so. The fact that our most recent general election largely degenerated into a contest over which party would provide better technocratic management over our public services – with any discussion about who we are and what we want to accomplish as a country almost completely omitted – makes one wish that David Cameron or whoever becomes the next Labour Party leader possessed the ability to speak about actual ideas and beliefs rather than just pledges and soundbites.

Today is not a day for politics, which is just as well. For as we pause to mark ten years since terrorists struck at the heart of the world’s greatest city, our politics have rarely looked smaller and less adequate to the task at hand.

 

Here is the full text of the sermon:

The Tenth Anniversary of the London Bombings: A Service of Commemoration
Location: St Paul’s Cathedral
Date: 07/07/2015

Soon after 7/7 the families and the friends of the victims compiled a Book of Tributes. It is a taste of the ocean of pain surrounding the loss of each one of the victims. The tribute book is also very revealing about the character of the London which the bombers attacked.

The majority of the victims were young. They came from all over the UK and all over the world. There were Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Humanists. There are in the book tributes in Italian, French, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, Tamil, Polish, Farsi, as well as English.

London is an astonishing world-in-a-city but beyond the diversity the book also conveys a unifying agonised outcry – this was a terrible crime which robbed us of beloved sons and daughters, partners and friends.

Like so many here, I can remember the day vividly. First the confusion then confirmation of the dreadful truth; and then all through the day stories of the courage and the humanity of the Emergency Services. The London Underground Staff were first on the scene in the smoke-filled tunnels, comforting the dying at a time when no one knew whether there might be other bombs.

The doctors from the British Medical Association building rushed out to help those caught in the blast which destroyed the Number 30 bus in Tavistock Square. All through the day police, fire, ambulance crews worked past exhaustion point to bring relief to the injured and very soon to the bereaved. London was and is proud of them and grateful.

I remember the spontaneous outpouring of grief and sympathy which very soon was expressed in a mound of flowers and tributes at the various stations and the churches close to the explosions, open to emergency workers and the whole community.

There could have been so easily demonstrations of anger but beyond the numbing shock there was solidarity. London had been attacked and our unity was in our grieving.

There are many who bear the physical scars of that day but also thousands of survivors who sometimes years after the event relive the nightmare in their dreams. As our hearts go out to the families and friends of the victims of terrorism, especially those murdered so recently in Tunisia, we must learn as a society that care for survivors is a responsibility both in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy and for years to come.

The Mayor summoned thousands to Trafalgar Square. A succession of community leaders and politicians went to the microphone to denounce the crime and declare our solidarity with one another. The leaders of the various faith communities were there also, the Cardinal, the Chief Rabbi, the Bishop and representatives of the Muslim, Hindu and all the communities represented in London. We all knew one another already and so we decided to go to the microphone together to make the united pledge which we shall repeat in this service. One of the lessons of today is that there must be no let-up in building and repairing the friendships which are so vital at times of crisis.

Communities are made by stories and the story of 7/7 in which every part of the community suffered and every part of the community helped to bring succour deserves to be remembered. It deserves to be woven into the tapestry of London’s memory as a contribution to a story in which we all have a stake.

Our London is a laboratory for testing whether it will be possible for the cosmopolitan civilisation which is becoming a global reality to hold together. We are in the midst of debate about identity including what it means to be British. Some in the world are reacting to change by retreating into ever narrower definitions of their identity. And at the same time, merely invoking the universal concepts of tolerance and respect with which we probably all agree, does not generate one iota of the energy required to transform lives and build a community.

We cannot exorcise the satanic by creating a spiritual vacuum. Other life forms conform, without the possibility of conscious choice, to the laws laid down for them. We humans are shape shifters who shape ourselves and our futures by referring beyond ourselves to some god or more often an idea like success, wealth, power. Sometimes tragically we manufacture a god in our own image, an idol created when a bruised and humiliated ego surreptitiously re-ascends by projecting its own rage and lust for power.

No doubt social and economic factors have a role in incubating religious extremism but the religious element cannot simply be reduced to something else. It is part of being human to worship and if there is no worthy object of worship then the vacuum is filled by something banal or lethal.

The dome of St Paul’s under which we sit is a representation of the one world in which we all live. The dome is supported by eight figures, four teachers from the East looking West and four teachers from the West looking East. Our calling as we remember with deep compassion the events of ten years ago is make our own individual contributions to the unfolding story of London, as a city where we hold fast to that which is good; we render to no one evil for evil, but we strengthen the fainthearted,  we help the afflicted, honouring everyone and rejoicing in the love of God and the energy of the Holy Spirit.

Source: Diocese of London website

July 7 Memorial - London

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